If we can keep it

From the founding of the American republic, we have had different views on policies to improve our “more perfect union.” That we have lived and flourished together is the result of several important features of American society that we should never take for granted.

The first is a constitution that establishes a limited government that provides maximum scope for each of us to live our individual lives as we see fit. The potential frictions from our different views are thus minimized.

But the individual freedom structure of our government and its accompanying laws are not enough to explain our relative success. Civil society can only flourish within that structure if our values are virtuous and our cultural norms support tolerance and cooperation. Such norms derive from tradition but evolve with experience of what works. This was the insight of Fusionism—the need for both freedom (limited government and free markets) and good values. “Popularizer [William F] Buckley and politician [Ronald] Reagan took the productive tension between freedom and heritage and translated it into political action under the term “fusionism.” “Conservative nationalist or fusionist manque”

“As far as viewing individual freedom as the supreme principle, Mr. Fusionism Frank Meyer explained in his “Western Civilization,” that freedom did rank first politically, as what he called the ‘criterion principle, the guide.’ But ‘the application of principle to circumstances demands a prudential art’ derived from ‘the intricate fibers of tradition and civilization, carried in the minds of men from generation to generation…. The compelling, if secondary, claims of other principles, though not decisive to judgment in the political sphere in the way that freedom is, do nevertheless bear upon every concrete political problem.’ So, practical action requires balancing freedom and beliefs.” 

Culture informs how we use our freedom. Our personal survival and flourishing (self-interest) naturally have priority. But our cultural and moral values help inform our behavior toward ourselves and toward our neighbors that best serve our flourishing and happiness. Our personal welfare also depends on how we treat others.  In the fusionist spirit, two of the critical elements of successful societies are trust in the institutions that govern them and respect for those with whom they disagree.

Political debate in America today is too often merely finger pointing and damning the other side as disingenuous—treating them as enemies rather than partners in brainstorming sessions to find the best solution to opposing views. The pros and cons of proposals and an understanding of the sincere needs and concerns of the other side and the development of compromises and consensus are not possible in such an environment. Our defense of free speech is critical but of limited value if we are just shouting at each other and forget that listening is an important part of a productive conversation.

More deeply disturbing and dangerous is the widespread loss of confidence in our institutions. How best to protect ourselves and our families and our community from Covid-19, for example, should not be a political issue. We should be able to rely on the best advice coming from our public health agencies as they gather and evaluate the evidence. But these institutions bent to political pressures and lost public confidence. “Should you get vaccinated for covid-19”   “The unnecessary fight over covid-19”

More disturbing still is former President Donald Trump’s persistent lies to his supporters that he actually won the 2020 election, thus undermining trust in our elections. That Trump makes such claims is less surprising than that so many of his supporter believe it despite the almost total failure of any evidence presented in court (thus under oath) to establish voter fraud or miscounting, and the rejection of such claims by Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, and  Trump’s appointed Attorney General, William Barr, who called the claims “BS.” There is no way anyone really seeking the truth can still believe Trump’s claim of a stolen election. But a lot of people still seem to.

Unfortunately, it gets worse. We all listened to Trump’s failed effort to persuade George Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to find 11,780 more votes for him. “Trump-Raffensperger call transcript on Georgia vote”   When such efforts were exhausted, Trump explored ways to overturn the election results in Congress with the help of “legal” advice from John Eastman and Rudy Giuliani. The final desperate plan was to convince Vice President Mike Pence to reject the Electoral College vote and declare Trump President. The scheme was illegal. The Vice President’s legal adviser, Greg Jacob, explained the illegal nature of the plan to its author, John Eastman, and to the Vice President as did Judge Michael Luttig. VP Pence refused Trump’s pressure to overturn the election, for which we must all be very grateful.

In response to Pence’s refusal to violate the law, “Trump tweeted that Pence ‘didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done,’ prompting rioters Trump had sent to the Capital to “chant ‘hang Mike Pence’ and erect mock gallows.  Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney has described testimony from Trump aides saying he responded by saying Pence ‘deserves it.’” “How did Trump respond when mob chanted hang Mike Pence?”

The mob that attacked the Capital on Jan 6, 2021 was sent by Donald Trump. “Five people died during the attack or in the immediate aftermath.”  “January 6 attack on capitol-guide to what we now know”  “A grand jury has accused Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and four associates with seditious conspiracy tied to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.” “Proud Boys leader charged with seditious conspiracy related to Jan 6”   “Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group, and 10 other members or associates have been charged with seditious conspiracy in the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol.”  “Stewart Rhodes arrested-Oath Keepers-Jan 6 insurrection” Two of them have pleaded guilty so far.

Trump’s behavior on Jan 6, such as his long delay in taking any action, remains somewhat cloudy because some of the key Republicans involved that day have refused the subpoenas to testify before the Jan 6 Commission:

“Those gaps are largely the result of the refusal of key Trump allies to participate in the investigation, a list that includes his former chief of staff Mark Meadows as well as his most prominent defenders on Capitol Hill: GOP Reps. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Scott Perry (Pa.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.) and Mo Brooks (Ala.), all of whom have rejected congressional subpoenas to appear before the panel” “Jan 6 committee is telling a story but plenty of gaps remain”

This is an outrage. It is disrespectful to those of us, hopefully all Americans, who want and deserve to know the full truth of what happened that day (and before).

What if Trump is allowed to run again in 2024 and claims that he has won even if he hasn’t?  Will our institutions and public trust in them withstand the better trained and better prepared Trump insurgents next time. Judge Luttig issued a strong “warning to a country whose democracy, he said, is on ‘a knife’s edge.’”

 “Ignoring Jan 6 hearings Michael Luttig explains why you shouldn’t”   “Read Luttig statement”

Trump seems to be preparing for such an event.  “Speaking during a Faith and Freedom event in Nashville, Tenn., Trump said [of] the defendants charged in the Capitol riot… if I become president, someday if I decide to do it, I will be looking at them very, very seriously for pardons. Very, very seriously….” “Trump-says-he-would-look-very-very-seriously-at-pardons-for-jan-6-defendants-if-reelected”

I hope that he won’t be allowed to run:  “The criminal case against Donald Trump”